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Preview: Jed Wallace's Radio Weblog

Jed Wallace's Radio Weblog

Last Build Date: Thu, 06 Jun 2002 18:07:33 GMT

Copyright: Copyright 2002 Jed Wallace

McAdams, by the way, is definitely one to keep your eye on.  He is now heading up an organization called the Center for
Reform of School Systems, which, like many ventures focused on improving leadership in public education, is supported by the Broad Foundation.  Unfortunately, the Center as of yet does not have its own website, but when I last spoke with Don in February, he said that they should have a site up sometime in the near future.  Apparently, the Center's first big conference is going to happen this summer in Colorado Springs.  The Center is focused on providing training to school board members from across the United States.  Perhaps it's best to check out The Broad Foundation' site for the latest information on the Center until they can get their site up and running.

Here is an example of a district that is definitely aware of the business challenges that they face, and from what I hear, the district's focus on business issues has resulted in more successful management.  I really like this page from the District Services Division.

In general, Houston schools have been ahead of the nation in applying business skills and training to the public schools.  Much of it got started with reform efforts that resulted in Rod Paige becoming the superintendent in Houston.  For a good account of the Houston story, I highly recommend this book by Don McAdams, a man who served on the school board during Paige's tenure and provides a real insider's view of school board politics.

As I understand it, Houston really took on the issue of providing business training to prinicipals and to staff within the central administration.  Much of it was done in collaboration with a program developed by Harold Hook, former CEO of American General Corporation.  To learn more about the kinds of professional development Hook offers, check out this sight.  But be forewarned, I have no direct knowledge of and have heard very diverse opinions about the value of trainings provided by HISD.  Many have reported that the training was instrumental in turning around the district.  Others have told me it did not amount to anything more than "putting principals on a Franklin Planner."  Anyway, for those of you curious:

One thing that I have definitely grown more aware of since coming to Kellogg is the crisis that is happening in the management of business operations within our largest school districts.  Some of the stories that have been brought to my attention are astounding. Philadelphia schools running a projected 1.5 billion dollar deficit due to poor fiscal management. Los Angeles Unified squandering literally hundreds of millions of dollars of a school construciton bond. McKinsey identifying $100 million worth of annual wasteful practices within New York City Public Schools Countless examples of IT blowups across the country in large school districts.,1413,36%257E53%257E584999%257E,00.html Now I don't bring up these examples merely to beat up on district managers.  To the contrary, I  bring them up to highlight the extent to which our society is unaware of the scope of the business challenge being undertaken by our largest urban school districts.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are approximately 50 school disticts in the US with annual expenditures exceeding $500 million/year.  (For a link to information about the country's biggest districts, check out  All of these districts engage in a range of business activities broader than the range of  activities undertaken by all but the biggest corporations.  For example, most districts manage fleets of busses, provide meals to students, procure and distribute a wide range of materials, manage assets, construct schools, develop IT systems, manage very large numbers of employees .. to name but a few of the business related activities. And yet, for all the challenge and responsibility we throw on district managers, few have had formal business training.  This is because few programs have been developed that are tailored to the specific needs of school district business managers.  Also, school districts can't afford to send their people to top business programs.  In the end, managers rely on a patchwork of personal networks and membership associations to get answers to very tough business problems.  In my view, this is a recipe for disaster. Just yesterday I was talking about this problem with the special assistant to a superintendent of one of our largest urban systems.  This person was charged with the responsibility of developing a training program for top district staff.  The guy is relatively young, has limited business experience himself, and has limited relationships with business schools and others who might be able to provide assistance. Obviously, something's got to be done about this situation.  I have a couple ideas brewing.  I would love to hear from any of you out there who have made headway on this front.  [...]

Another important resource for me has been the work of Paul Hill.  It's interesting how popular Paul's work has become.  I've gone to conference after conference now and have heard speakers refer to Paul's work.  Then all the conference participants nod and talk about him afterwards as if they have actually read Paul's work.  Obviously, some have but it's been clear to me a few times that people haven't.  In some ways, then, it seems to me that Paul Hill has become the educational guru of choice.

Fortunately, he's worth the hype.  Here are some links for those of you who may be interested in learning about him more.  About him in general:

His most influential book:

Having read this book (really) and having spoken with Paul at length about the future of American schools, I think what Paul (and all charter school advocates for that matter) proposes is only half of the equation.  Yes we should move to a contracting approach, one where school boards or districts contract out the operation of schools to school management organizations.  But on the other hand, allowing for contract schools or charter schools does not address the need for society to develop the capacity to make good schools at scale. 

This is where I think school districts have an important role to play.  If they could, much as San Diego is, convert their organizations into "school factories" that could churn out good school after good school, with the highly trained professionals and rigourous curriculum and methodologies needed to really make a difference in kids lives, districts could fill the void that the charter movement hasn't yet begun to address.  In the end, I want to see the districts who know what they're doing replicating their models in other areas outside their current boundaries.  As such, "Denver Public Schools" could be competing for contracts in New York and New York could be competing for contracts in Chicago ... and so on.  And if down the road for profit entities can start to prove that they can make good schools at scale as well, then they can join the fray.

In the end, I see the charter, or as Paul calls it "the contract," movement as nothing more than creating the playing field.  Equally important is being able to put able teams onto that new field.

As those of you who know me are aware, I have spent my two years at Kellogg applying the lessons taught at a top business school to the particular challenges faced by school district managers. During that time, I have found that there are a couple of resources I keep returning to.  By and large, they are the resources that help me keep focused on the big pitcture ... why, from an economic point of view (if not a moral point of view) it is essential that we begin to operate our schools with the latest business expertise, why we must empower parents with choice, and why for profit education is better for all parties involved.

In posting this information, I do not foreswear participating in the public education establishment.  To the contrary, I am firmly committed to public education, in the same way I am committed to public health.  It is just that I have come to a somewhat different understanding of what constitutes public education.  In my mind, there is a difference between "public educaiton" and "government managed" education.  In the end, I see no reason why for profit entities cannot play an important role in public education, in the same way that for profit hospitals and HMOs play an important role in public health.

One of the most important resources I have come into contact with here at Kellogg is Carolyn Hoxby.  She is perhaps the most respected economist who has spent her career focused on the necessity for choice within public education.  Believe it or not, I have printed out a hard copy of every paper posted on this site.  Some of the statistics is pretty complicated and dry, but her findings are always provocative.  I highly recommend her.

The question that occurs to me whenever I consider Hoxby's work is how practically to apply her ideas within an existing public school system.  What would a district look like that really provided choice to parents?  How would existing commitments be maintained?  How logistically could you provide choice to parents when the most desirable schools are always oversubscribed anyway?

Despite the challenge, I would say that a dream job of mine would be to design a system that applies Hoxby's work.

For those of you who have been following the status of the teacher sponsored legislation before the California legislature, here is an update.

As it turns out, the CTA is perceived to have over-reached.  Fortunately, the legislature saw the sense in not handcuffing district management across the state.


Here's one just for fun.  300 guys named Jed!  As it turns out, I met Jed Gillan, the guy who made this sight.  I had written a long biographical play and was having a staged reading in Los Angeles.  I had nothing to do with the casting and showed up to find out that the "Jed "character was being played by "Jed."  Too weird.  But hey, the guy is a good actor so I ended up happy in the end.

Here are the 5 platforms we're really diving more into.  We have contacts at various levels of each of these organizations and have gotten access to some of the internal resources.

Lesson Lab originated out of the Ed School at UCLA.  Ecollege and Blackboard started with the higher ed market and are now creeping into the k12 market.  What will be very important to a place like San Diego is whether or not the provider offers a platform that makes it easy for the district to post its own archive of training videos which it has been developing over the years.

Here is a link from a guy who has single handedly put together a list of web resources for teachers.  It's a weblog before weblogs.  I wonder where the best place would be to dig around for weblogs being run by teachers?

Here is a link to the Association of School Business Officials International.  They are a membership organization trying to close the gap between what business skills exist within large district and what skills there need to be.  Poking around the site I do not find mention or business leaders having responsibility for managing knowlede.  The omission speaks volumes ...

Just how shrill can things become you ask? This article does a pretty good job of summing it up.  I am absolutely fascinated by the link between San Diego reform efforts and the attempt to push through a pro-teacher union piece of legislation in Sacramento.  Nearly every major paper in California has written an opinion condemning the legislation as a bad idea, but still CTA presses on.  In essence it would become illegal for a district to take a strong pedagogical point of view like SDCS has done.  Oh CTA, (what exactly is the Shakespearian line??), me thinks you do protest too much!


Just for fun - an article from the San Diego Union Tribune about how teachers respond to a classroom laboratory set up to meet Alvarado standards.  Given the level of discord between the teachers' union and management, this kind of coverage is very rare. 

I have to say that when I went to San Diego last summer, I was somewhat skeptical that Tony could be trying to sell a pedagogical approach that is any better than what had been in place before.  However, after a few visits to San Diego schools where his system is being fully implemented, I came to realize how Alvarado truly has a better mousetrap.  Whenever you can get the discussion focused on the quality of the mousetrap, which happens in this article, people invariably support Alvarado's ideas.  It is when we start talking about adult needs and implementation issues that people suddenly start becoming shrill.

Here is the research paper by Elmore that was cited on the Darwin Magazine site.  Elmore is a pretty heavy-weight researcher.  The mere fact that he was drawn to the efforts in New York #2 speaks volumes.

This is probably the best comprehensive statement by Anthony Alvarado and Elaine Fink about how their knowledge management practices could be improved with improved communication technology.  This proposal was written in 1998, far before the knowledge management craze hit.  In it, we can see how Tony is starting to build a vision for how peer interaction, virtual visitations and access to documented best practices could be augmented with he was calling NetLearn.  I am uncertain what, if anything, became of this proposal.  I will continue to poke around.  I think this is definitely worth the read. 

In this book review, we see how Alvarado's practices within New York District #2, which has become a model for efforts in San Diego, are identified as best practices for education organizations hoping to make use of knowledge management in order to ramp up organization-wide capacity.  My thinking is that we should try to understand as best as possible the strategies that Alvarado has used in the past before looking at what technology-based approach my augment their efforts today.  Material covering Alvarado starts about half way down under the title "Examples from education."

Also, it might be a good idea to get the book.


Here is a brief introduction to some of the work that Tony Alvarado has been doing in the area of professional development for teachers.  It does not go into detail, but it does show the extent to which he is respected in the field.  I also include it so that you can see a picture of Tony.  The gesture is pure Alvarado.

Another leader in the field is Teach First.  Look, even Oprah gives them the thumbs up!

Currently there are a number of organizations that are hoping to become the knowledge management vehicle of choice for schools and school districts.  One of the most interesting is a company called Teachscape.

They maintain a library of videos that the teachers of member districts can access.  I have also heard that there are various message boards and other ways for teachers to interact.  In many ways, I believe that the district would like its teachers being able to access high quality videos like this.  However, the district is definitely not in the "let a 1000 flowers bloom" stage of reform.  The district has taken a very specific pedagogical point of view and expects teachers to adhere to it.  Thus, I think the district would be more inclined to have less than full access to videos or to create a parallel sight that only provided examples that are in line with the district's instructional approach.


Welcome to my weblog. 

I am interested in conducting a research project about how a successful knowledge management initiative could improve the quality of instruction within San Diego City Schools.  San Diego is currently undertaking the most ambitious district-initiated reform effort in the nation.  Today, NPR did a segment on Superintendent Alan Bersin and his attempt to extend his contract for another four years.  For those of you who may be interested in teaming with me on the project, I provide this link so that you may have greater background information on the district and the leadership team which oversees it.